© Oliver Keppelmüller 2017-2018
”Why Are They Not Moving?”
15th October 2017 by Ilja Varha
FROM THOUGHT TO ACTION
Grand Tactician will feature historical command structure integrated to the user interface.
This is augmented with the use of couriers and musical instruments to relay orders in battle
game play. These combined forms the order delay system, that will provide the player with a
realistic challenge when commanding his troops. The delay system will take effect when the
battle starts, meaning player can give initial orders to his troops during the deployment
phase (start of battle and after each day of battle), that are carried out without delay.
The game’s dynamic order of battle system, which we will talk about in further detail later,
has multiple command levels: The army commander has his subordinate generals, who
command their subordinates, and so on all the way down to the individual units. Orders will
flow down this chain of command, and this will take time.
To simulate the order delays and communication methods available, each level of command
has its own headquarters (HQ) accompanying the commander in the battlefield. Each HQ
has a command radius, that reflects the ”reach” of the commander and his staff during
battle. Inside this range communication is intact, and commander knows where his units
are, and couriers will have no trouble finding them. The opposite is true for units outside
Commanders will also have their signallists who can use musical instruments to play pre-
defined signals. Earlier horns, then drums and later bugles were used for this, as the sound
would cut through the noise of the battle and carry quite long distances. This requires that
the units are close enough to hear it, and of course that the order is simple and a pre-
defined signal for it exists. Simple orders like ”advance” or ”fix bayonet” are no problem,
but probably there will not be a signal for ”change formation to double line, prepare to
advance towards that group of trees at ten o’clock, after our artillery has finished
Image: Example of visual information tools that player can enable: Here a HQ is selected,
and you can see the (outer) command radius and (inner, with a bugle symbol) singal
instrument radius. The blue lines drawn from the HQ to its subordinate units and higher HQ
show information about order delay, for example if unit is out of reach.
As all the units (blurred grey) under this HQ are within hearing range of the signal
instrument, simple orders can be given quickly. The higher HQ on the other hand is outside
hearing range, so a courier is needed to deliver the orders. NOTE: Pre-Alpha placeholder
graphics are used, but the functionality is implemented.
FRICTION, AS THEY SAY
As the commander decides to get his troops moving, first he needs to give the order. If the
order needs to be taken by a courier, this involves writing the order, giving instructions to
the courier, maybe using map if the recipient cannot be seen. And then the courier embarks,
delivering the message. And this takes time, depending on distance, position of enemy
troops, and how quickly the courier manages to find the recipient. If he ever manages to do
When the courier arrives with the order, the recipient will need to read and understand the
orders, think about how he is going to execute the order, form and then give the orders to
his subordinates. And so on, down to the lowest command level. And of course, it will make
a big difference, whether the troops are already formed up and awaiting the order, or
dispersed around the battlefield fighting for their lives. If the order requires forming up in a
battle formation, all units need to be in place before the formation can start moving.
Otherwise cohesion would be lost.
Lower level commanders are allowed to make their own decisions according to situation. As
Grand Tactician is a game, where the player has overall command over all his units, lower
level commanders can be used to move and order their subordinates inside their command
radius, without the order from their commanding officer. This will allow quicker reaction,
but in limited space. But the more individual orders the commander gives to each of his
units, the more delay there will be. Writing a bunch of orders, one at a time, will take some
time, and a signallist can play only one signal at a time. And then it will always take some
time to reform the scattered units.
All this makes Grand Tactician battle game play quite different from the majority of strategy
games. Player will need to take into account this friction in the chain of command, but
he/she also can influence the delay with his tactical choices and managing of troops. As
Artificial Intelligence (AI) of the troops will help the player with their own initiative in many
situations, and battles develop in realistic, manageable pace, this will make the battles play
out in a very tactical way. Also orders available for player will allow timing of their
execution, so coordination will be possible. But that’s a topic for another dev blog.
Images: Using young boys as drummers in military units was common for a long time.
During marches they could help in keeping cadence, but during battles they would play pre-
defined signals to relay orders to units. Swedish troops of army of Finland (left), and
Portuguese troops (right) with their musical instruments during the Napoleonic wars.
Getting an army of tens of thousands of men moving was not a small feat, but to coordinate
the movement in battle was even harder. When artillery fire booms and lines of troops
unload their muskets in massed volleys, shouts of the commanders disappear in the noise.
Distance also created a problem, as large armies deployed to battle, not all troops could be
observed by the commander.
Back then, the most important communication systems were musical instruments and
couriers, riding in the midst of the battle, delivering messages. Getting the troops moving
could involve very long delays, from the commander giving the order, to the troops to start
marching. And when they do move out, situation could have changed already! In Grand
Tactician, the player will need to consider these problems, as he commands his troops in
the field of battle.
Image: A French Chasseur
playing bugle, late 19th